True Fortune


Anne Michael

A couple of weeks ago, Steve’s mom, Phyllis, had a bout of what I would term cabin fever. I wasn’t surprised. Her social life these days consists of doctor’s appointments, two days of working out with the Silver Sneakers each week and retrieving her newspaper from the bottom of the driveway. She just had a yen (if you’ll pardon the pun) for some Chinese food, and since she doesn’t like going out to eat alone she invited us to join her.  Seeing as how the petite and adorable Miss Phyllis lives with us, we couldn’t refuse the invitation without a death certificate. She would definitely see through any lame excuse we would come up with. 

It is unusual for my husband and me to go out to dinner on a weeknight. By the end of the work day there are chores to be done and dogs in need of love and affection. The beasts make us feel guilty for leaving again at the end of the day as evidenced in the way they celebrate our re-arrival. (You’d think they’d been stranded on a desert isle with no food or water for the past few years and had just been rescued.) And once my backside sees its favorite chair after a long day at work it gets a fainting spell, and I’m down and done. But I don’t mind cooking. In fact I find it relaxing, but after the evening commute the thought of getting in a vehicle to hunt up victuals sounds too much like work. On weekends, well, that’s another story. So with reluctant pleasure we went to what we have affectionately dubbed the China palace, a cavernous place with trayed ceilings heavily adorned with crystal chandeliers and surrounded by neon lights. While the décor is garish and a bit tacky, the food is diverse, plentiful and utterly delicious.

Over dinner Phyllis regaled us with stories she’d read in the newspaper and ranted on about all the ways in which the world has gone to hell before finally settling on recounting Victoria Alexander’s A Visit from Sir Nicholas and its virtues. So intriguing was her “review, the book is now sitting my to-be-read pile with the rest of the books I’ve been trying to get to over the past month. I’m hoping to get to it before Christmas. Actually, I’m hoping to read it by at least July. I’ll admit some think it’s a bit odd, but I love to read Christmas stories in July, sitting in the sun by the pool with a tall cold drink in hand and with nothing more important to do than read. Mom made this one sound particularly good so I am looking forward to it. She knows it too. Almost daily, Phyllis asks me if I’ve read it yet, and my reply is, “Not yet, but soon.”  

Steve sat with almost glazed eyes at the discourse as he tucked into his food. Poor guy. Surrounded by two passionate readers, he was a bit bored, waiting for a conversational turn he might find interesting. (Race cars would do the trick.) His turn came as I bit into what had been labeled fried shrimp on the hand-lettered sign above the sneeze guard but instead turned out to be fried scallops. (Yuck!)

It has become something of a game for our family to figure out what is in a pan beneath a label lettered with words spelled as they sound by someone whose primary language is not English. We find these placards interesting and amusing, an adventure in language as we negotiate the buffet looking for our favorite things and whatever else may be new.

For me, one of the best parts of a visit to a Chinese restaurant is the fortune cookie that arrives with the bill. On one side of the paper tucked into the cookie is the adage spelled in Chinese and English and what it means. The languages look nothing at all alike, and seeing these words that we take delight in practicing as we sip our tea makes us appreciate the effort that goes into the painstaking writing of the food signs. It is fun to listen as folks at other tables also play games with their fortunes by adding to them. We love hearing a Chinese fortune cookie fortune become something else with “in bed” or “when I’m naked” or “in the middle of the night” added to the end, and watching the participants burst into grins and laughter. For the three of us, though, just reading them and finding what grains of truth may like within is enough.  

My fortune that evening said, “Our truest life is when we are in our dreams awake.” That really appealed to me as I looked around at my family. We had enjoyed a delicious meal on a day we would not have ordinarily gone to the China palace. We shared good conversation in a place where the staff was happy to have us, and I came away anticipating an excellent book. This is truly the stuff of which dreams are made, and yet I am awake and enjoying it all. Lucky me!   

At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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